SEO

Personalized Search Session at SMX Advanced

Personalized Search in 60 seconds:

  • Personalized search is supposed to improve the user experience and decrease spam.
  • Google is the only major engine to really deliver personalized search results.
  • Personalized search results are NOT new. They’ve been in development for years.
  • Ask and Yahoo are harvesting information for the future.
  • Yahoo does some personalization on the session and interest level.
  • Personalized search is determined by search history, web history, bookmarks and personalized homepage content.
  • SEOs should combat personalization through keyword themes, long tail optimization, content buckets, a better understanding of user behavior and user-centric strategies.
  • Append “&pws=0” to the end of a search query on Google and you’ll get non-personalized results, so you don’t have to log out each time.

The last session of day one and hot off the heals of SEO, Meet SMM, Personalized Search: Fear or Fear Not? was moderated by Danny Sullivan (Editor-in-Chief, Search Engine Land) with speakers Matt Cutts (Software Engineer, Google, Inc.), Michael Gray (Owner, Atlas Web Service), Gord Hotchkiss (President and CEO, Enquiro) and Tim Mayer (VP of Product Management, Yahoo! Search).

What is personalized search?

Search results that are customized for you based on your search behavior and likely vary from non-personalized search result pages. For example, if you’re a business man who often frequents car enthusiast sites and you look up “jaguar” on Google, instead of the top entry being about the Jacksonville Jaguars (shameless plug for my city) or a big cat, you might get results for the luxury car company. The other results might still be on the page, but lower down.

What factors influence personalized search?

  • Search history (clicks)
  • Web history (visits)
  • Bookmarks
  • Personalized homepage content

What is the difference between social search and personalization?

Social search is the delivery of search results that were chosen by a human. Social search engines include Jason Calacanis’ newest project, Mahalo. Social search can be a component of personalized search.

Since it’s difficult for search engines to look closely at an individual’s behavior, the search engines will likely look at specific behavioral groups or themes.

So, what can SEOs do to combat personalization (from Gord Hotchkiss)?

  • Optimize around keyword themes
  • Increase long tail optimization
  • Optimize across content buckets
  • Have a better understanding of user behavior
  • Develop user-centric strategies

What challenges does personalization pose (from Michael Gray)?

  • Unethical SEO tactics (tricking clients or co-workers into believing they rank better than they really do)
  • Personalized SERPs add uncertainty to rankings
  • PPC offers the safer option

On the last note, Michael’s point was that personalization is yet another tactic on Google’s part to increase PPC spending. If advertisers cannot show up naturally, they will have to buy their way into the users personalized search bubble. At some point it was mentioned that whatever happens with organic results, a paid update is often close behind, so it will be interesting to see what happens in the near future to PPC.

Is Google dumbing down users?

Personalized search allows users to search for less specific queries and forces trust of the engine to deliver the best results. Michael believes Google is in essence creating “Google addicts” and dumber search behavior. If anyone has seen ”Idiocracy”, this scares the crap out of me. I will hold off on a rant, but the last thing we need are dumber searchers when people are already clicking on ads that tell them they are about to download a virus!

Google is being more aggressive about using getting users to enable the page rank tool bar to improve the user experience and decrease spam. Google is also the only search engine doing much with personalization. Yahoo and Ask are collecting user information for the future.

Next up, Tim Mayer discussed what exactly Yahoo does with personalization:

  • Session-based personalization = Understands intent of the user at that moment based on queries and clicks during a session. Difficulty for the search engine is determining where a session stops and starts.
  • Interest-based personalization = Understands the interests of the user based on own preferences and inside or outside the search context. Difficulty for the search engine is delivering relevant results when a user searches outside of their normal pattern or niche.

What is the impact of personalization on SEO?

  • Better matching of the results that show up
  • Gives the search engines enough content per page to help determine the topicality of that page

Yahoo’s approach:

1. Discovery. Yahoo wants to learn from user interaction through Flickr, Answers, del.icio.us, Upcoming, etc. to help discover content that is interesting to the searcher and their community.
2. Recovery. Social search applications save the queries for future reference.

The last speaker was Matt Cutts who emphasized that:

  • Personalization is inherently designed to make results better for the users.
  • Singular value decomposition (I’m not going to go into this here, but check out my personal blog for a keyword phrase of the day – coming soon to RSS near you. Sorry for the shameless plug, but I’m saving the truly geeky and creative stuff for myself.)
  • You can add “&pws=0” to the end of a query to disable personalized web search without actually logging out.
  • Personalized search isn’t new! (Insert a Monty Python metaphor – what’s the deal with Googlers and their dorky references, oh yeah, they work at Google. The sad thing is I get all of them.)

And with that I’m out. I will post the final two sessions I covered tomorrow. I didn’t want to bombard you with everything at once (that and I have a full-time job, which isn’t blogging).

 Personalized Search Session at SMX Advanced
Rhea Drysdale is Co-founder and CEO of Outspoken Media, which specializes in SEO consulting, link building, reputation management and social media. With more than seven years experiences, Rhea has spoken at SMX, SES, Web 2.0 Expo, Pubcon, Blog World Expo and BlueGlass. She has also been featured on CNN.com, in the Wall Street Journal and in SEO: The Search Engine Optimization Bible as an industry insider.

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